Joel Beauvais is the Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water for the Environmental Protection Agency. So with that title, it would be assumed he should know exactly why the citizens of Flint, Michigan weren't told en masse that they were ingesting and bathing in poisonous lead water. Except he doesn't.
Before the House Oversight Committee, Mr. Beauvais came prepared with exactly no answers as to why Flint citizens were kept in the dark for nearly a year that the water in their homes was making their children sick. Calling him out on this was chairman of the committee Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).
Chaffetz wanted to know why it took so long to get the information to the public even though EPA regulations manager Miguel Del Toral knew there were extremely high levels of lead in the water of Leanne Walters' home all the way back in February 2015. Walters was responsible for bringing this issue to light after telling state officials that her children's hair was suddenly falling out in chunks.
Del Toral's discovery also included finding out that the Flint river supplying the city's water wasn't being treated with the proper chemical agents. By spring of 2015, Del Toral warned the agency that the City of Flint was understating the lead levels in its water and that the warning signs were being downplayed and even ignored.
Meanwhile, the citizens of Flint continued to be exposed. This fact is not lost on Rep. Chaffetz, who was visibly upset with the EPA's lack of concern and inability to provide sufficient answers. Video and transcript below:
CHAFFETZ: Let's talk about the right thing to do. What's the number one thing you do if you're trying to warn the citizens, let the citizens know -- What's the number one thing you should let them know?
BEAUVAIS: I think that that's exactly the right question to ask.
CHAFFETZ: I'm asking you that question and I'm glad you agree it's the exact right question. You're from the EPA, you're in charge of water quality -- I want to know what the answer is.
BEAUVAIS: It's important for EPA to go back and understand all the facts...
CHAFFETZ: No, it's not! No, it's not. It's important for the EPA to tell the public that they're poisoning their kids if they drink the water!
BEAUVAIS: I absolutely agree.
CHAFFETZ: Then why didn't they do it? They sat on that for almost a year.
BEAUVAIS: Administrator McCarthy issued an elevation policy this January emphasizing...
CHAFFETZ: This January! They had it for nearly a year. The EPA administrator went to Flint yesterday. The EPA first went to her home in February of last year. Why did it take a year?
BEAUVAIS: I can't answer that question. All I can say is that they were working…
CHAFFETZ: Why don't we fire the whole lot of 'em! What good is the EPA if they're not going to do that? If you're not going to tell the citizens -- My daughter, okay, she's getting married. [chokes up] I'll get emotional about that. She's moving to Michigan. Are you telling me that the EPA, knowing that they're putting lead, there's lead in the water, that they're not going to tell those kids? Because that's exactly what happened. They knew that. Mr. DelToro knew that didn't he? When did he know that?
BEAUVAIS: Mr. DelToro did testing on Ms. Walters water in early 2015 and knew that the lead levels were incredibly high in her water.
CHAFFETZ: When was that?
BEAUVAIS: I believe that it was in February of 2015.
CHAFFETZ: Yes! Why wasn't that made public?
BEAUVAIS: I don't know the answer to that question. I think that the…
CHAFFETZ: You can't come to a hearing before Congress, and be in charge of water quality for the EPA, and not know the answer to that question. You can't!